Forty-five years ago the very first Beaujolais Run came to life out of a wild idea of two notable friends sharing a dinner of Coq au Vin at the Hotel Maritonnes in London. These friends were Joseph Berkmann – the owner of eight London restaurants, as well as a leading wine distributor and weekly wine columnist – plus Clement Freud, a Director of the London Playboy Club, respected Member of Parliament, wine correspondent and raconteur.
The story goes that as bottle succeeded bottle that November evening in 1970, the germ of an idea took shape. Sometime after midnight, both gentlemen roared away from Romanèche with several cases of 1970 Beaujolais in the back of each car, having challenged one another to be the first to get their cases of Nouveau back to London.
Fast-forward 45 years to the 2015 Beaujolais Run and the pace is now much more relaxed and safer, with Run participants spending an enjoyable five days to drive to and from Beaujolais, taking in some of the most spectacular driving roads, breath-taking scenery and enthralling experiences France has to offer, involving some of the finest wine, Champagne and food, whilst raising money for worthwhile charitable causes (with more than £750,000 raised since 2006).
As part of the 30+ crews participating in this year’s Beaujolais Run, GRR took to the wheel of various vehicles, including the support Ssangyong Tivoli and Rexton SUVs, plus a Bentley Continental GTC Speed, to cover some 1,200 miles, encountering famous vineyards, chateaux, historic battle fields and a world renown motor circuit, whilst also experiencing some amazing driving through Belgium and France.
Fellow participants could be found in a wide variety of classic and contemporary cars, including four Bristols from keen members of the Bristol Owner’s Club – ranging from a 1949 400 Pininfarina, one of only three built on this chassis by the celebrated Torinese coachbuilder, right up to a modern and rare Fighter gullwing coupe – plus a Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale, TVR Tuscan, Morgan Aero 8 and Eunos Roadster, amongst others.
With the underlying Battle of Waterloo theme to this year’s Run – on the 200th anniversary of that event – the run began at the Royal Automobile Club’s scenic Woodcote Park venue at Epsom last Monday, with racers John Surtees OBE and Anthony Reid flagging the 2015 participants away before heading to the diamond city of Antwerp – a location much favoured by Napoleon – via the Eurotunnel.
On Tuesday the Run visited the historic Battle of Waterloo site, including a long and exhausting climb up the Butt du Leon to survey the battle fields, before moving on to Reims to spend time with the Taittinger Champagne family and exploring the extensive cellars.
After a challenging navigational trial day on the Wednesday, designed to give a level playing field for all types of vehicles, with navigation classes for ‘maps only’ and ‘any assistance’ (satellite navigation, etc.) as we all tried to cover the course in the shortest distance to win the coveted ‘P2’ position on the following year’s start line. We then all headed for deepest Burgundy and return, aiming to be the first to ‘bring back the Beaujolais’ after its midnight release, having joined the mayor of Beaujolais for memorable and very French dinner and the ‘launch’ of the 2015 Nouveau vintage, which is highly drinkable.
Two and four-wheeled World Champion, and Patron of both the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Beaujolais Run – John Surtees OBE – joined the Run group back in Reims for a spectacular black tie dinner and charity auction, amusingly conducted by Malcolm Barber of Bonhams, as personal guests of the Taittinger Champagne family at its chateaux home near Reims.
Claiming the hard-fought GT1 prize for route navigation via maps only was the 1949 Bristol 400 Pininfarina cabriolet of Adrian Berry and Hannah Goodman, with the Eunos Roadster of Steve Skellham and Sharron Platt taking the sat nav-assisted GT2 place. Anthony and Iris Spooner in their Bristol 411 were awarded P1 for being the highest charity fundraisers on the Run, with the Beaujolais Run supporting the Henry Surtees Foundation and its air ambulance activities.
We look forward to the 46th Beaujolais Run, and many more to follow…
Photography courtesy of Gary Axon, @runbeaujolais and @only9built